Time for Sikh faith to lift the lid on sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is such a taboo within the Sikh community that even talking about it is frowned upon, writes GURNAM SINGH as he comments on the recent conviction of NZ granthi for sexually abusing children

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By Gurnam Singh | UK | OPINION |

Whilst condemning this vile individual for his terrible crimes we should also recognise the real heroes, namely, the 8 and 12-year-old girls and their parents who showed tremendous courage by reporting the abuse.

Sexual abuse is such a taboo within the Sikh community that even talking about it is frowned upon. This then provides a perfect cover for the abusers, who often go unpunished.

Whilst we should avoid overreacting and keeping things in perspective, one crime is one two many. Sexual abuse of this kind takes places in every community and in people’s homes.

NS GRANTHI GUILTY OF SEXUALLY ABUSING CHILDREN

The father of a child sexually abused by a Sikh priest has praised his daughter for speaking out, saying the girl “saved other kids” from facing the same ordeal.

Sajan Singh, a who is from India, was found guilty of six charges of sexual conduct with a child by Judge Nevin Dawson at Auckland District Court on Thursday.

The two victims were aged eight and 12 years old when Singh lured them, separately, into quiet rooms within a West Auckland gurdwara and groped their bottoms. The assaults happened in 2017.

The older girl’s father was at court on Thursday and sighed with relief as the guilty verdicts were read out.

“It’s been two years of battle, but it restores my faith in the justice system to know this man will be punished,” he said afterwards.

His daughter, who was born in New Zealand and is now aged 13, has refused to enter Sikh temples since speaking out against Singh. Her parents said they felt sad about that – but after her ordeal, they respected her decision and had switched temples.

The father said children attended classes at gurdwaras to learn about Sikh culture, the Punjabi language, and traditional music.

READ THE FULL STORY, Sikh priest Sajan Singh guilty of sexually abusing children (Stuff, 18 July 2019), HERE.

However, there is a particularly serious issue with faith-based institutions. As the major scandals concerning the Catholic Church over the past 15 years have revealed, the dynamics and modus operandi of abusers in positions of trust can be particularly complex.

Not all places of worship and Gurdwaras are alike, some are owned and run by the community and are therefore much more open to scrutiny. However, there is a particularly serious problem within what is known as ‘deras’ or cults which are in effect run by a powerful self-appointed head who claims to possess spiritual powers and therefore holds particular sway over the congregation. Abuse in such settings can be endemic and difficult to disrupt, not least because the cult heads often have influence with crime agencies and politicians.

Unless the Sikh faith steps up to lift the lid on sexual abuse within its institutions, I am afraid, like the Catholic Church, sooner or later, the victims will speak out and this could seriously damage the religion.

A recent YouGov poll exploring the impact of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church in Australia reported that one in three Catholics hold an unfavorable view of the church. Had the church responded much more decisively perhaps things might have been different.

So, come on Sikhs, live up to the principles that the Gurus taught and tackle this terrible injustice, and by doing so save the faith. Otherwise, we could see an implosion with members of the community simply distancing themselves from the Gurdwara and even perhaps Sikhism.

[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is a Visiting Fellow in Race and Education at University of Arts London and a Visiting Professor of Social Work at University of Chester as well as a presenter at UK-based Akaal channel. This views were shared on his Facebook page]

 

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